Böcklin, Arnold - The Bagpiper 1861
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
This painting marks the turning point in Bocklin's depiction of the mythological from an idyllic world that was to be aspired to, to a depiction of the loss of that idyll.
On his return to Germany, he had exhibited the Great Park, and Heroic Landscape (Diana Hunting), both of 1858. These works were traditional mythological scenes and gained him an appointment as professor at the Weimar academy. He held the office for two years. But it appears that it was at this very time that Bocklin saw the futility of using the same idealistic model to depict the changing situation.
His bagpiper is a symbol of the divine. It is the source of celestial music - the music of the universe - and he is a distant figure - a figure fading into the mists of time, a distant reminder of the loss of the music of the spiritual and mysticism. The colours are chosen to be subdued - an almost autumnal scene - the end of an aeon.
Perhaps of equal importance is that the bagpipes were both used in and a symbol of Dionysus.
Very little is known of the so called Dionysian frenzy other than that it was abandoned frenetic and performed over some time. The dance used the drum, fiddle, pipes, castanets, bagpipes and flute as accompaniment occasionally the tambourine. The dancing was ‘frenzied’. The dance rituals that existed in Greece around the year 2000 BC, were connected to both the gods Dionysus and Apollo.
The bagpipes are in some cases the symbol of spiritual experience - direct experience of the ineffable:
"Well, Bakala, one fine day, took it into his head to ascend a high mountain, merely for pleasure and for the sake of boasting. Arrived at the top of the mountain he was fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of a well disposed spirit, who offered him a present from the clouds. The articles from which Bakala was invited to select a keepsake looked mean and shabby, like those which people generally consign to the lumber room. Bakala, however, examined them carefully and chose an old and dusty bagpipe; for he imagined, as some people are apt to do, that he was madly fond of music. Moreover, the sound of the bagpipe – this Bakala soon discovered – had the power of making everyone dance."